Alaska's famed Iditarod sled-dog race starts with ceremonial jaunt
By Steve Quinn
(Reuters) - Dozens of mushers and their sled-dog teams on Saturday joined in the ceremonial start to Alaska's famed Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race that will take contestants through nearly 1,000 miles of wilderness over the next week.
Fans lined the streets of downtown Anchorage with cameras, banners and signs and outstretched hands hoping for a passing high five from the competitors.
The 11-mile (18-km) jaunt through the state's largest city sets the stage for Sunday's start of a race that commemorates a 1925 rescue mission that carried diphtheria serum to Nome by sled-dog relay. A total of 69 mushers, some from as far away as Jamaica and New Zealand, are expected to take part.
"Saturday is an opportunity to interact with mushers, watch dog teams excited to leave the starting line, travel 11 miles of the city streets and call it a day," said race Executive Director Stan Hooley. "There is much more of an opportunity to touch and feel the race, and celebrate this great race."
Timed racing will start on Sunday when the mushers reach Willow, a small community about 80 miles north of Anchorage. The competition will eventually see them glide into Nome, a city on the coast of the Bering Sea.
They will hit 21 checkpoints with distances between stops ranging from 18 to 85 miles before reaching the finish line in Nome. Race officials peg the distance at 975 miles, not accounting for any topographical changes.
Most races last slightly longer than nine days, and the winner will receive $50,400 and a new truck. Other top finishers will also be awarded cash prizes from the race purse, which totals over $650,000. Each musher is required to take a 24-hour rest and two separate eight-hour stops. None can be combined.
"Anyone who has attended both the ceremonial start in Anchorage and the re-start in Willow, one of the first things they notice is the mindset of the dogs," Hooley said. "They sense the difference between the purpose of those two days. That's a fascinating thing to see." Continued...